I have had several discussions over the past few weeks with Stefan Weitz, director of search for Bing, and Andy Chu, director of product management, Bing for mobile, about some pretty cool things on the horizon for Bing. We can't say any more than that now, but it will be fun to follow. My conversations have been eye-opening to say the least and, as a result, I think that Bing could actually put a dent in what they refer to as "the Google habit."
As I bet Stefan would attest, I am a bit opinionated about this whole local Internet space. So rather than grouse about it, I am going to outline my thoughts on just how Bing could make some serious progress in the search space. So, here goes.
Google is the dominant player in the search space and they have been for more than a decade now. We know what they can do (automate everything and get a finger in every pie you can imagine) and what they can't do (marketing—unless you are in Portland, OR—and customer service). They have jumped out to a ridiculous lead in the mobile search space (97 or so percent market share) and they are working to put the SMB, local Internet marketing space together with their mix of Google Place Pages, Hotpot, and Latitude.
All that being said, they appear to be doing this the way Google always does things. They are putting their head down, plowing forward, listening very little to the end user, and just assuming that because they are who they are, that the SMB will "get it." I think they are wrong and that's where Bing can get some serious traction.
In simple terms, Bing's opportunity exists in becoming the anti-Google. My discussions with Weitz and Chu show that there is considerable promise on the product side of Bing.
They have adopted a partner mentality in order to get a lot of their search results to reflect more in-depth information. They have partnered with Kayak for travel and with FanSnap for sports events and ticket information. According to Weitz, 30% of Bing searches now deliver information that is outside the "blue text link" result that many of us have grown so accustomed to.
There is also the obvious social side of the coin as well, because Bing actually appears to have a better connection to the social graph for search results through their investment in Facebook and the resulting relationship. Now, don't get me wrong, that relationship seems to be far from perfect, but it's better than where Google is in the social arms race.
Overall, Bing is positioned to make a dent in Google. I am being realistic in that I don't think they will ever overtake Google, but they can make serious inroads in search and mobile.
How Would They Do It?
Here is the where the rubber meets the road and I wonder if Bing has the chops or even the nerve to do what is necessary to really make an impact in the world of search, especially at the critical SMB level. My recommendations are written as if I were speaking to Bing directly.
If you are going to lose money, lose it doing something that will move the needle. Microsoft's online efforts are a tremendous drag on overall profits for the company because it loses money hand over fist. This is done because they know they have an uphill battle AND it is one that is worth fighting. It can't stay that way forever, though.
Spending $100 million on a general branding campaign is a good start but it's not where the win occurs. The win occurs when you sit across the desk from the SMBs of the world, shake their hands, and find out what they need. The win comes when you educate the SMBs about the Internet space as a whole. The win comes when you help them person to person.
So spend the money you have wisely by investing in the human side of the Internet. Hire people to be city managers. Give them a more than fair wage plus the chance to earn commission based on reasonable metrics like number of verified business accounts in the portal and other things. Let them earn the right to hire more sales people and be entrepreneurial in their market but with the backing of a Goliath like Microsoft.
Invest in people to take the message to the street level and to evangelize. Now you are acting like the anti-Google, and you are doing something different that impacts actual human beings. People like being treated like real flesh-and-blood and not some algorithmic function.
Oh, and on a very simple note: There should be a "Find Us on Bing" sticker in every storefront of every business in the country. Now that's advertising, but it can only happen through relationships, which take people and a lot of money and hard work. You've got the money now, so spend it wisely on those who can do the hard work. Be the anti-Google who uses people and not the algorithm to change the marketplace.
Invest in more people who do actual live customer support. What if Bing could tell the human story of hiring hundreds of dedicated customer service representatives who are well-trained and fairly paid. No minimum wage phone picker-uppers. Hire just-out-of-school business degree-holders who are interested in this stuff, and let them show you what they've got.
This story could be incredible. While still in the stifling grip of a recession and the supposed "jobless recovery," what if Microsoft advertised that they were hiring people in the United States whose sole purpose was to talk to the heart of the real economy—Main Street, USA—about getting their businesses in shape to do the right kind of business online? It's PR gold, and oh by the way, it would work to get real business, not just a happy face story.
For the foreseeable future, there are enough older business owners who do not see the world of communication as a digital-only process. This is going to be the case for at least 20 more years. In that time, this group will age out and give way to the younger generation who is comfortable with the interactive way of life.
In the meantime, business will get done and many of this older (dare I say forgotten) crowd are the ones with established businesses and the financial wherewithal to have endured storms and to understand where and when to spend precious resources.
If Bing would help this group move forward, that would go a LONG way to breaking the Google habit and creating more opportunity for all involved.
Stop worrying about what Google is doing. Being the anti-Google will require something that is different than Google and not mere mimicry. Right now, Bing is doing a good job delivering search results with actionable options. This already trumps much of the Google search experience, but not enough people know about it.
Google won't be stopped, but they can be "right-sized." This is strange for me because honestly, I love Google. As a small business person myself, they do a lot for me, from e-mail and Google Docs to so much more. I am not interested in seeing them fall and become nothing. Quite the contrary. I believe that all ships rise with a rising tide, but right now, though, Google has not been challenged enough in the search game to stay sharp. That's where Bing has a chance to improve the online space for everyone.
Bing has to step up and become a serious threat to Google, so that the Internet as a whole can improve. All these other search engine wannabes like Blekko and Wolfram Alpha all want to make the world safe from bad searches, but they don't have the resources that Bing has. That will be limit their success. And Yahoo? Let's just say that Bing needs to lead this race, and if Yahoo gets a lift, so be it. But don't expect it.
I realize that this is a bit long and it is a bit heavy-handed but it's time. There is so much more to be examined in this scenario, but I think that if Bing would take the opportunity to be the anti-Google that there is "gold in them thar hills!" And honestly, if Bing started making money in search, I bet we would all start making more money because that means there is competition and options and hope.
Do I think Bing can be the anti-Google? I think they certainly have the potential, but my question is do they have the guts? Time will tell and I hope this gets very interesting, very quickly because if not, we could find ourselves stuck in a Google habit that will work but could be so much better if there were company (or better yet A company) to make us all get better.
Originally published on Biznology